This is the second in a series of posts on the President’s comments about health care reform at yesterday’s town hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Here is the President again:

THE PRESIDENT: You will not be waiting in any lines. This is not about putting the government in charge of your health insurance.

And yet section 3103 of the Senate HELP Committee bill would give the Secretary of Health and Human Services authority to appoint a Medical Advisory Council that would determine what items and services are “essential” for a “qualified health plan,” and, by implication, which benefits are not essential. The House bill is parallel but less specific, creating an “independent public/private advisory committee,” in which the members are chosen by the government. In both cases, the recommendations would be packaged together and approved or disapproved en bloc by the Executive Branch and Congress.

These bills would give government officials, or people chosen by the government, authority to determine benefit packages, copayments and deductibles, relative premiums, as well as health plan expenses and profits. They would, in effect, turn health insurance into a utility, run by private companies, but with policies and rates set by the government. While privately-owned firms would be implementing the decisions, the key decisions would be made by government officials or people chosen by government officials.

THE PRESIDENT: I don’t think government bureaucrats should be meddling, but I also don’t think insurance company bureaucrats should be meddling. That’s the health care system I believe in.

Resources are constrained, and so someone has to make the cost-benefit decision, either by creating a rule or making decisions on a case-by-case basis. Many of those decisions are now made by insurers and employers. The House and Senate bills would move some of those decisions into the government. Changing the locus of the decision does not relax the resource constraint. It just changes who has power and control.

The health care system I believe in moves no more decisions into the hands of the government, and instead creates incentives for people to control more of these decisions and make these hard tradeoffs for themselves. Insurance would evolve from pre-paid medical care, as it is today for many, to a more traditional catastrophic protection model, as we now have for other kinds of insurance.

Continue to the next post in this series…

Other posts in this series:

  1. Introduction and the President’s overpromise that everyone can keep their health plan